We are All Wile E. Coyote: Dan Colen’s “High Noon” at Gagosian Beverly Hills

by Charmaine Griffin

Gagosian Beverly Hills marks another win with Dan Colen’s High Noon, which sees the mercurial and reliably provocative New York based neo-pop artist sharing thematic desert paintings that draw attention to the landscapes of the American West, while also addressing performance, trickery, and belief.

Drawing from the now iconic image of the American desert that Chuck Jones created in his animations for the Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner cartoons, Colen gives us desert vistas drawn from the cartoons but without the protagonists, drawing attention to the fantastic, surreally beautiful desert landscape.

Focusing on bare canvas with minimal oil and maximum pigment, the surfaces go from matte to waxy and juxtapose earthy and artificial tones. Up close the paint is ecstatically alive and deliciously textured, the choices in color and composition beautiful at every scale. There’s a layering of meaning here—the hallucinogenic quality of the desert resonates with our memory of the Sisyphean pursuits of the Wile E. Coyote, and we see the desert as a place of both delusion and total faith, where illusions are both fostered and deflated.

The artist brings a fresh perspective that differs substantially from his previous hyperrealist explorations. Pieces like The Great Silence, The Trap and The Reward, The Mercenary all flow between earthy reds, fluorescent oranges, bright yellow and cobalt, somehow managing to fuse Georgia O’Keefe with the indelible animation of the Looney Tunes in a statement that gets at the heart of an American sensibility lying somewhere between the total optimism and hard reality.

The exhibit will run now through December 15, 2018.